Citing Failure in Afghanistan, Trump Administration Unveils New Strategy for Conflict Resolution

Jul 11, 2019

U.S. and Afghan Army soldiers conduct a joint patrol in Eastern Afghanistan. The independent Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found $5 billion US had been spend on reconstruction in the 18 year-old war, which the Trump Administration has deemed a failure.
Credit U.S. Army / Flickr

It’s estimated that more than 65 million people are displaced by conflicts worldwide. To help resolve those conflicts, the United States is rolling out a new strategy, one that puts diplomats in the lead, rather than the military.

The Council on Foreign Relations is tracking 25 active conflicts around the world that pose a risk to the Untied States. They span 5 continents and cover everything from drug cartel violence to the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

The Council on Foreign Relations is tracking 25 active conflicts around the world that pose a risk to the United States. They span five continents and cover everything from drug cartel violence to the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Three of the four most critical are in Hawaii’s backyard.

In recognition of the Indo-Pacific region’s importance to U.S. interests, a top American diplomat recently presented the Trump Administration’s new strategy for resolving active conflicts before an audience at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

In addition to the policy center, Oahu is home to the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command, the largest of six regional geographically-focused commands, which oversees all Defense Department operations from the U.S. West Coast to India.

American soldiers speak with an Afghan village elder. The lack of progress in in Afghanistan is cited in the government's Stabilization Assistance Review as an example of the failure of the "nation building" approach.
Credit Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

The new approach, outlined in a 2018 document called the Stabilization Assistance Review, was outlined by Denise Natali, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations.

Natali, who holds a doctorate in political science, has spent 30 years working on post-conflict relief in both government and non-profit organizations, most recently heading the Center for Strategic Research at the National Defense University.

The thesis for the new strategy is that stabilization is a political process, and as such it should be diplomats, rather than the military in the lead.

This is a significant departure from how the United States has approached the problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, where military officers have determined objectives, assisted by diplomats.

The Council on Foreign Relation's Global Conflict Tracker shows 25 active conflicts with the potential to impact US national security. 3 of 4 most critical are in the Indo-Pacific region.
Credit Council on Foreign Relations

The U.S. military has also controlled the lion’s share of resources throughout the almost 20 years of operations in Afghanistan.

According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the federal government has spent $5 billion on stabilization assistance in Afghanistan. Assistant Secretary Natali calls it a failure.

Natali said the new approach reflects the adminsitration’s desire for a more disciplined approach to stabilization spending and the American public’s growing dissatisfaction with protracted overseas engagements.

“It does reflect President Trump’s larger vision...for realigning all foreign assistance to our national security interests. Stabilization is part of it, but we have to be more disciplined.”  

A noteworthy, if seemingly cosmetic change is the dropping of the term “nation building” from official doctrine. Natali says this not just the administration distancing itself from a toxic term.

“Stabilization assistance is limited, we have a limited time frame. It is not open ended, it is based on clear principles that must be tied to clear political outcomes.”

The Assistant Secretary of State went on to say that foreign partners will be held accountable for meeting agreed upon goals and sharing the cost of achieving them.

The stabilization review acknowledges that American taxpayers have grown weary of massive federal spending on overseas projects, but Natali says there is still bipartisan consensus in Congress that resolving active conflicts is in the United States’ national interest.

“These problems are affecting our national security. How we do it has to change. We haven’t shown any progress in the past.”